March 2020 -2021. One whole year mostly spent locking down or thinking about locking down. Tiers and fears. A year spent attempting to work out how to best manage a situation that seemingly came out of nowhere, but changed everyday life with a speed that shocked the world.
Weirdly my sixth sense came into play. I don’t say this with any sort of smugness, but I knew weeks before it happened that Indytute would be shut down. As a company that ran nothing apart from live experiences, it was becoming harder and harder to see how our partners and teachers would cope. We fought off the inevitable as long as we could, and when it arrived we still thought naively it wouldn’t last long. A month maybe, a few weeks?
Initially, we just worked on ways to keep you, our customers, connected. Indytute embarked on a series of pub quizzes - led by our master of the quiz Paul Roberts. We were one of the first companies to put on a quiz. The first week 100 plus keen quizzers waited to play. We kept up the experience for several weeks - The Guardian listed us as the ‘go to’ quiz - but goodness it wasn’t easy.
Along with everyone else we discovered how exhausting it is to engage on Zoom. I don’t think Paul has ever been told to increase his wattage. Muting, talking, answering chat while scoring and putting up picture questions - well treacle and swimming spring to mind.
Still thanks to you, we raised over £1000 for The Felix Project (a food distribution charity), which at least made us feel we were doing something for someone.
As we busily worked up our Zoom skills, I certainly hadn’t thought that we would lose 90% of our business overnight. How could life just shut down? Well, it did.
On a personal level, apart from Covid (who thought anyone would say that?), I managed to have a bike accident. We were only two weeks into lockdown, and I was cycling down a quiet country road with my small son on the front riding ‘shotgun’. He put down a leg and havoc ensued. I broke my jaw in five places, lost a couple of teeth and found myself booked in for emergency surgery. My son, though shocked, was intact. My jaw was subsequently wired closed for the next two months and I went onto a soup diet.
If you think Zoom is normally bad, try lisping at the screen through wires. A low point.
Apart from the quiz, we attempted to hold more live events. 23 in total (see, I remember the number). We felt we were doing something, to hold on, but it wasn’t enough. Emergency measures needed to be applied.
It wasn’t just us. We do have a very close bond with our partners, a lot have become friends. They were all going through the same trauma. How were we all going to pay the bills? We worked on a pivot. If you couldn’t go to the experience, then the way forward was to bring the experience into the home - a kit in a box. Bring on ‘Home Deliveries’. This proved to be The Indytute saviour. Instead of being London centric, we would send out the message to the whole of the UK. Lockdown suddenly came with a bonus. Customers made terrariums, moulded clay, cut lino and baked sourdough. Kits were a major hit, and yes, they have saved The Indytute.
Black Friday was our biggest yet. We didn’t slash prices, but again we raised (thanks to you), £1000 for the Fleabag Support Fund in partnership with the Royal Theatre Trust, proving that you can run a business and still give something back.
The personal pain wasn’t over - literally. I had another big operation last October and didn’t have to paint on bruises for Halloween. My jaw was wired up for a second time, and soup back on the menu.
When Christmas was cancelled it was a huge disappointment. My mum is also my business partner and Christmas is a big deal for us. We usually have a punishing time working up to the bell on Christmas Eve and the day itself is an opportunity to get together and cheer. Last year it was really sad not to be able to share the day.
So to sum up 2020. Well, let’s start with a positive. I have developed a side to Indytute, that will continue to grow alongside the core experiences, and that’s very exciting. Lockdown gave me a space to think about the future of the business but less time than I would have liked or anticipated.
I never want to hear the word ‘home schooling’ again. I long to get out and about. Lockdown is not good for my psyche. Bring on the world. Yes, I love my four walls, but I have looked at them for too long. Where shall I hot desk? Maybe the pavement outside Selfridges or a bench near Kings Cross Station. Please come and join me.
I’ll be the person in the crowd swing dancing...